I hope Pachamama likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
It’s tradition to give the first sip of an alcoholic beverage to Pachamama, the Peruvian version of Mother Earth. Lacking anything more fermented than peach jelly left out in the sun, I dropped a piece of crust into a patch of flowers. If Madre Tierra didn’t appreciate it, the beetles might’ve.
Locals told us it would take about half an hour to climb from the town of Coporaque, Peru to Yuraq-Qaqa, the Incan burial tombs. That, of course, meant it took us a full hour. Altitude is a bitch.
Though we didn’t see anyone else on the trail, the tombs are highly trafficked. Coca leaves and Peruvian coins litter haphazard piles of vertebrae, splintered jaw bones and dirty swatches of burial cloth.
In the U.S., I don’t believe in spirits, but in Peru, I’m firmly convinced they exist. So I was more than a little nervous to scale the burial towers. Exploring tomb after tomb took me farther and farther into the underbrush bearding the steep side of the mountain—perfect hidey holes for malicious duendes.
Barricaded by an enclave of bramble, I found myself squinting up at a small tomb two stories off the ground. My stomach did a quick somersault and settled comfortably into queasy. I was scared. So I was gonna climb that sucker. Por supuesto.
Childhood summers spent in the walnut orchard back home paid off handsomely, and my lack of youthful elasticity was mercifully forgiven by a few handily placed stones. The view from the tomb top was gorgeous and dizzyingly terrifying. The tomb itself soon became a crawl space, and after hoisting myself the last few feet, I had to admit there’s a definite line between conquering fears and being stupid. So I started the (even scarier) journey back down to (relative) safety.
Thunder ricocheted off adjoining summits, and I scrambled back to Significant Other, who was quietly contemplating life next to a Hamlet-esque skull. We scurried down the mountain—stomachs full and curiosity satiated but a tad uneasy. I looked back. The skull wished us farewell with its vacant sockets. *shudder
Hopefully duendes like PB&J, too…